Tipping their hats to Leonard Cohen

Concert to help West Africa water project

Leonard Cohen, the Montreal-born singer-songwriter whose music has been admired for more than four decades, may not play a show here anytime soon, but a benefit concert set for next week offers his fans the next best thing.

The show – called “Little Wild Bouquet,” a phrase taken from the Cohen song, “Democracy” – begins at 7:30 p.m. March 23 at Reynolds Hall on the campus of Shepherd University.

Hank Goldstein and Leah Graham of Ranson are organizing the benefit, which will raise money for Wisdom Spring, a nonprofit that digs wells so that those living in Burkina Faso, a high-poverty area of West Africa, have easier access to safe drinking water.

He and his wife, both musicians, have long dreamed of putting together an evening featuring favorites from Cohen’s extensive song book.0313cohen-art

After Graham heard about some teenagers in Leesburg, Va., who hold an annual Walking for Water fundraiser for Wisdom Spring, she said she felt inspired to plan a show that would give the non-profit more to work with.

“I thought it was wonderful that these teenagers had come up with a way to help,” she said. “ I wanted to do whatever I could to add to the effort.”

Goldstein and Graham soon were contacting former bandmates from their years singing in clubs in Baltimore, Frederick, Md., and elsewhere as well as musicians they admire from attending open-mic nights in the Panhandle.

To their musician friends, they posed two questions: 1) “Are you a Leonard Cohen fan?” and 2) “Would you be willing to play Cohen songs for a good cause?”

Again and again, the couple heard “yes” and “of course.”

“The response has been just great,” Graham said. “When we had a practice session the other day, we had musicians drive in from Baltimore, Charlottesville, Va., even from Pittsburgh through a snowstorm. Everyone’s really excited about doing this.”

The chance to work with other seasoned musicians to showcase Cohen’s amazing breadth of work is a big part of the draw, the couple says.

At 78, Cohen remains one of music’s most fascinating figures. He once explained that his turn from poetry to songwriting came not because he was hungry for fame, but because he was just plain hungry.

“I found it was very difficult to pay my grocery bill,” he said in 1971. “I’ve got beautiful reviews for all my books, and I’m very well thought of in the tiny circles that know me, but … I’m really starving.”

In 2008 during Cohen’s induction into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lou Reed praised him as belonging among the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.”

Many know Cohen primarily as the songwriter behind “Hallelujah,” the layered, haunting ballad released to little acclaim in 1984 that has gone to be recorded professionally hundreds of times – including a hit version by Rufus Wainwright featured prominently in the “Shrek” soundtrack.

At the March 23 show, Goldstein and Graham both will sing and Goldstein will play guitar and piano as well. Other musicians, including Don Klein, Jaime Gregory, Jim Kiser, Mike Aaron, Patricia Leavitt, Paul Graham, Robert Friedman, Susan Spangler and Jim Hanna will sing and pitch in on guitar, accordion, cello, harmonica and other instruments.

Tickets for show will be available at the door for a donation of $12, Goldstein said. To learn more about Wisdom Spring and the musicians who will be part of the Little Wild Bouquet Ensemble, find “Little Wild Bouquet” on Facebook.

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